A wit said of Google Wave “if your project depends on reinventing scrollbars, you are doing something wrong.” But occasionally, just occasionally, one gets to do exactly that.

Under the Ayatana banner, we’ve been on a mission to make the desktop have less chrome and more content. The goal is to help people immerse themselves in their stuff, without being burdened with large amounts of widgetry which isn’t relevant to the thing they are trying to concentrate on. And when it comes to widgetry, there are few things left which take up more space than scrollbars.

For example, I spend plenty of time in a full screen terminal, and it’s lovely to see how clean that experience is on Natty today:

…but that scrollbar on the right seems heavy and outdated. We took inspiration from mobile devices, and started exploring the idea of making scrollbars be more symbolic, and less physical. Something like this:

Of course, since the desktop isn’t often a touch device, we need to think through pointer interactions. We wanted to preserve the idea of keeping content exposed as much as possible, while still providing for pointer interaction when needed. We also decided to drop the “one line scroll” capability, while preserving the ability to page up and down. Take a look at the result:

Overlay Scrollbars in Unity – implementation from Canonical Design on Vimeo.

The design work behind this has been done by Christian Giordano, who worked through the corner cases (literally) and provided a mockup for testing purposes. And the heavy lifting for Natty is being done by the indefatigable Andrea Cimitan, who is currently polishing up a gtk implementation of the concept for the release. Christian put together a blog post on the subject, and a great video which talks through the design process and a few of the challenges and solutions found:

Overlay Scrollbars in Unity from Canonical Design on Vimeo.

Code is available on launchpad, bzr branch lp:ayatana-scrollbar and in a PPA:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ayatana-scrollbar-team/release; sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install liboverlay-scrollbar-0.1-0
LIBOVERLAY_SCROLLBAR=foo gnome-appearance-properties

Well done, guys.

162 Responses to “Ayatana overlay scrollbars: something truly Natty”

  1. luis Says:

    Is this going to land on natty?

  2. boteeka Says:

    This is seriously awesome! Seriously! Hats off to the designers and implementers of this beauty!
    I hope we’ll see it in Natty :-)

  3. mark Says:

    Yes, this will land in Natty, though we still haven’t taken a final view on how heavily it will be used by default.

  4. Alberto Ruiz Says:

    As a GTK+ hacker I gotta say, well done guys!

    This is an area where Gtk+ needs some love alongside with file/font picker dialogs (well, dialogs in general are pretty bad in Gtk+).

    I just hope to see some of this niceties coming to upstream after the rush for Natty is over :-)

  5. luis Says:

    Nice. Keep up the good work! 😉

  6. Ubuntu’s new Overlay scrollbars for Natty Says:

    […] markshuttleworth.com/archives/615 […]

  7. Dave Rolsky Says:

    I like the look, but I still find myself needing one-line movement in the terminal from time to time. Today I learned that Ctrl-Shift-{Up,Down} will do exactly that. I’m all for making the common cases cleaner as long as power users have a fallback.

  8. Diska Says:

    Good idea. it’s good to use a similar way for resize windows instead of grip that use space

  9. Joaquin Says:

    First, nice work Mark, you’re the best 😉
    And, I want to know, if there will be support for touch & overscrolling on Unity 3D (because Unity 2D already have touch & overscrolling support)

  10. Melvin Says:

    Awesome work, I just saw Apple’s Mac 10.7 new iOS style scrollbars and thought it isn’t very suitable for desktop OSs. These however, make perfect sense.

    I love the smooth scroll effect when clicking the buttons and I hope someday Nautilus can scroll smoothly while dragging the scrollbar.

  11. antono Says:

    Cool stuff. Tank You Canonical Design!

  12. Anders Runeson Says:

    I really like the way you increase the work area of the screen, its important for screens with lower resolution/size but will be of good use even for workstations. It’s great watching Ubuntu always improves in the aspect of useability.
    When looking at the video from Christian I also understood the behavior of the up/down-buttons, very nifty!

  13. sbillaudelle Says:

    That’s awesome! Are there any plans to merge that back to GTK+ to make it available on other distros?

  14. novatillasku.com » Blog Archive » Superposición de las barras de desplazamiento (Mark Shuttleworth) Says:

    […] ha encantado el articulo que acaba de publicar Mark Shuttleworth en su blog, sobre las barras de desplazamiento y de cómo se está intentando que sean lo menos […]

  15. Charly Says:

    That seems like a very good idea but how do you see these scrollbars when the windows are maximised ?

  16. Marco Diego Aurélio Mesquita Says:

    The solution seems very good. But please, don’t drop the one line scroll capability. It can be added making a button appear at the extremities of a scrollbar if the mouse gets close to it. That way no functionality is lost and no space is wasted.

  17. Johnathan Says:

    Horrible choice, like most of your last ones! Besides, I keep wondering why the GNOME guys still keep you on their Planet. Seriously, what is your contribution? These posts are irrelevant, and Canonical is increasingly becoming a pretext for irritation and “tribal” outbursts. Please, make the GNOME and FOSS people a favor: be kind and conscientious enough to remove yourself from Planet GNOME. Many thanks!

  18. Dylan McCall Says:

    Wow, I love this! I remember somebody pitching a similar idea (with the buttons) to the Gnome people a couple years ago. I’m just curious: is this based on that design, or a totally different invention?
    (Now we just need Chromium to use real scrollbars).
    Also, does this still take into account the new scrollbar marker API? 😉
    No hurry if it doesn’t; I don’t think anything has used it yet.

    I like the movement towards overlay widgets that dare to go on top of other things. The very tabular feel we had before was one of the big problems with our interface design, and one of the reasons why things always felt so limited in space.

  19. Cassidy James Says:

    Has Daniel Fore been involved with this? I know he said back in December that “the scrollbars are something that are inspired by mobiles, especially the idea that scrollbars are an indicator…” and the elementary theme had implemented that idea. It’ll be interesting to see if elementary adopts the interactive aspect or not, too!

  20. Meneer R Says:

    Ehm, I see a problem here. Imagine visiting this page in a maximized browser window, with this functionality.

    You couldn’t even click the submit button.
    Oops 😉

    Back to the drawing table.

  21. nixternal Says:

    Why not get rid of the scrollbar all together in the terminal? People who are going to be using the terminal pretty much already know how it works and know how to scroll w/o the scrollbar. I know myself, and I have witnessed many others as well, disable the scrollbar in their terminal no matter which terminal they are using. I can scroll with a mousewheel, or with shift+page_up. But if you have to have a scrollbar or think it is necessary, then this route would definitely be better.

  22. Marco Diego Aurélio Mesquita Says:

    Dylan, Are you talking about this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PnXY4wjuH8 ?

  23. mandy sauls Says:

    Spaced out *ZB Ayatana Ubuntu* focus on design. ITS about feeling connected to OS while being aware of what is going on in the FOSS sphere. OPEN space always usable on uMobile for uDesktop on the go, Nice #ONE.

  24. DesignGirl mwa Says:

    Is fantastic :) i love the idea, and at first i was thinking that apple will do this to Mac OS X, but i am so happy to see this in our Ubuntu that taste very good on every next bite :)) yummy :)

  25. Barra de rolagem lateral no Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal | André Gondim Says:

    […] Fonte: Blog do Mark: […]

  26. M. Says:

    Oh my! This is so fresh! This is so original! Thank you Canonical!


    Oh. Nevermind.

  27. murrayy Says:

    So Ubuntu is going for touch devices.
    Will Canonical alter the UIs of the default programs to make them more usable for such devices? I don’t see me using standard evolution, firefox or libreoffice with my fingers.

    Looks good btw ; )

  28. felix Says:

    Wow, looks really promising. Looking forward to see it in natty. Keep up the good work!

  29. Marjolein Katsma Says:

    > “We also decided to drop the “one line scroll” capability”

    Sure make it look good, but don’t kill basic functionality! This just kills Unity as an option for me, I *use* one-line scroll and I want it. It exists for a reason!

    My hopes for Unity are dashed now. I’ll be looking for another distro to put on my netbook then. :(

  30. MattJ Says:

    Two comments I’d like to make:

    1) This looks really pretty, kudos for the nice design :)

    2) Is this actually a step backwards for usability? This implementation goes against just about every rule in the book – replacing the elements of the scrollbar that afford clicking and dragging, and the arrows that indicate the ability to scroll the content area. Replacing them with a flat brown line.


  31. Daniel Wiberg Says:

    I just love it! Innovation that is useful and looks great! Really looking forward to Natty now.

  32. Thorsten Wilms Says:

    @Dylan: you might have this in mind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PnXY4wjuH8

  33. Richard Ayotte Says:

    Great idea. I would also love to see this concept extended to the window manager. When the mouse hovers over the edges of a window border, a nice thick border overlay could appear to resize the window. You could also use the meta key to create window overlays. For example, currently pressing the meta key with left mouse button moves the window and meta with middle mouse button resizes the window. It would be nice to see an overlay on the window when the meta key is pressed to indicate that you are interacting with the chrome and not the application. Windows could be created without close, minimize and maximize buttons and these buttons would only appear as an overlay when the meta key is pressed. A good analogy would be similar to the view and edit mode in vi. When the meta key is down, you’re in a window management mode so window management buttons are overlayed on top of the window, an x to close, another icon to minimize etc. When the meta key is released, the window management buttons (close, minimize, maximize etc.) fade away. The window management icons could also be much larger and even placed in the centre of the window.

    Great work and looking forward to seeing more of this.

  34. Overlay Scrollbar in Unity « Ubuntu Secrets Says:

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  35. me4oslav Says:

    I juast came by to say this – I LOVE IT

  36. mark Says:


    I’m not aware of prior work. This work of ours was inspired by the desire to get rid of the blocky chrome, looking at mobile interfaces (Android, iOS) and wanting to bring the same feel to the desktop, just respecting the nature of some key desktop interactions. I’ve recently seen screenshots suggesting Apple will use a similar idea in MacOS but there’s no suggestion of the thumbs-on-proximity, it will be interesting to see how they solve that.

  37. mark Says:

    The thumb appears outside the content area if it can, otherwise it appears inside the content. If you hover over the thumb, it fades away, so you can click anywhere though you might have to pause a second.

  38. mark Says:

    That’s interesting work by Thorwil, but a little different. There’s still a block of chrome reserved on the screen for the scrollbar, whereas our concept is entirely overlaid on the content. Nice idea, nevertheless, if ours doesn’t survive testing we could explore this one.

  39. mark Says:


    Yes, we have a similar idea already in Natty – thin window borders, with an invisible magic region around them for easier window sizing. There are some bugs in the implementation related to positioning the windows near the edge of the screen, but it’s a good start. We also plan proximity effects on window buttons but X makes those tricky for the moment.

  40. Interesante concepto: Overlay Scrollbars en Unity « Ubuntu Life Says:

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  41. mark Says:


    Yes, this is a risky move. We built a prototype to test in order to raise our confidence levels, but a lot will depend on the actual implementation.

  42. mark Says:


    You’ll likely be able to turn this off if it doesn’t suit you. We don’t usually like adding options for everything, but this is such a substantial change it may well warrant the option.

  43. mark Says:


    YEs, we noted Apple’s preview. Our work has been underway for some time, and we’ll ship it in production ahead of Apple. Your sarcasm is, I think, unwarranted.

  44. mark Says:


    If the edge of the pane is close to the right or bottom of the screen, the thumb overlaps your window. You can click behind it by hovering over the thumb, till it fades away.

  45. mark Says:

    It’s LGPLv2.1 specifically to allow for merging, yes. In the interim, it’s an easy install on any distro that cares to take it.

  46. mark Says:


    Yes, we’ve already discussed a path to get this capability in Gtk. Ryan says it will be less of a hack with Gtk 3/4.

  47. Koushik Says:

    @meneer What do you mean. Can you elaborate

  48. w1ngnut Says:

    This is great amazing. I just hope you reach a balance between usability and layout, I don’t seem to find the current layout final. Maybe the scroll bar showing up upon mouse over and fading on mouse out, without the gtk component showing up would be even more interesting.

  49. Jose Says:

    I like it, but I prefer only a line without anything else. I have a program that uses the same concept, just a single transparent line, but I use another as background, you need it for pointers. You could use orange complementary(light blue, they match well together) and make it dim(very transparent) so you don’t waste space with the “right floating thing” around the line.

    If you look at iOS, it does it since the early days, just open safari on ipod Touch or iPhone, go to google, search something and then keep dragging the screen, look at your right.

  50. zekopeko Says:

    mark can it be activated globally?

    It only works for your example “LIBOVERLAY_SCROLLBAR=foo gnome-appearance-properties” but no for gnome-terminal or nautilus.

  51. mark Says:


    Check out /etc/X11/Xsession.d/80appmenu for an example.

  52. Ubuntu 11.04: scrollbar ridisegnate in Unity | WebEnt Says:

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  53. Daniel Says:

    I like this! Unlike other implementations, it provides a good handle and constant visual indicator. Like someone else said; the overlay in OSX is lacking and somewhat upside-down. This implementation looks practical, and acts as expected. I don’t suspect anyone will have much trouble catching on to it.

    I think it would be a good idea, though, to allow someone to click the scrollbar to “sticky” the grip (keep it visible). That actually WOULD make it great for touch screens, even with a limited implementation.

    Also, how does this work with QT and KDE? The team has done an amazing job so far of enabling QT applications to look and feel native in GTK. Will this break that work? More importantly, will a patch be submitted to QT/KDE/Oxygen (I don’t know exactly which team is most appropriate) to actually enable this in KDE and KUbuntu? As a KDE user, I would love to see that, and it would show Canonical’s dedication to the Ubuntu FAMILY of Distributions.

  54. Overlays Scrollbars, una novedad más en Natty Narwhall « Soft-Libre Says:

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  55. NCLI Says:

    @mark: Some documentation on how to do that would be nice for us testers.

  56. Unity tindrà barres de desplaçament sobreposades a la finestra | GNULinux.cat Says:

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  57. Craig Says:

    We MUST be able to have line by line scrolling. I use it extensively to AB compare pages of code from certain lines onwards. Being able to place a particular line at the top of the view port is essential.

  58. Soroush Says:

    He means in the case of a maximized window the scroll bar that appears over the content may block some of the content that can be pretty annoying. Like if you have a small button near the edge of the window (assume a small close button with just a [X] icon, on a website, inside firefox). If you move tho mouse near the edge the scrollbar will appear and you can’t click on the button.

  59. Tualatrix Chou Says:

    It’s really cool! Thank you Mark and Canonical Design!

    I think it would be very friendly to the mobile device!

  60. Mike Rushton Says:

    “We also decided to drop the “one line scroll” capability”


    How does this benefit anyone?

  61. R Says:

    I like that you guys are experimenting – the overlay should be semitransparent though.

  62. Erik S Says:

    Wow, that’s a great idea. It’s a simple design change that maintains necessary functionality yet yields greater viewable workspace. With many people using scroll wheels or touchpads with scrolling capability, shrinking the width of the scrollbar is a very sensible design decision.

    I originally thought I would not like the divergence from Gnome but I think your providing a healthy competition. In a sense, there is still an indirect contribution to Gnome. I hope to see some cross-pollination between Unity and Gnome-shell.

  63. Rory Says:

    “seems heavy and outdated”

    I disagree. Scroll bars take up very little space, and I’ve never thought of them as outdated. I think the Ubuntu project has a lot more important stuff to focus on than these small unimportant details.

  64. Aaron Toponce Says:

    I gotta say, I’m not a fan of the purple terminals. Digging the scrollbar implementation though.

  65. Rush Says:

    What about scrollbars in maximized windows? May be handler must arrive inside window instead. Such positioning solve maximized window case and have better look’n’feel IMHO.

    Some years ago I’m and my wife think, speak and go to the same solution. But maximized window (our favorite) case left unsolved and I don’t public our proposals anywhere, so I cant give you prooflink :(

  66. mark Says:


    We dropped the one-line-scroll buttons because we observed very low usage of the single-line-scroll, and there are multiple alternatives (arrow up and down, scrollwheel, touch). Finally, it’s a very fiddly move for a very small change in state. So, we dropped it in order to clean up – less on the overlay thumb, more clarity and clickability. It was definitely a risky move, we might be wrong but it is testing well.

  67. mark Says:


    The overlay will be semi-transparent, yes. That’s why we call it an overlay :-)

  68. mark Says:


    When the thumb appears over your content, you can hover on it for a while and it will fade away.

  69. David Mentré Says:

    I don’t see much advantage from this design. Are the scrollbars taking that much space on the screen or are so disturbing for the user? I doubt so.

    I like the polished aspect of Ubuntu desktop and the latest ideas (“reduce the clutter on the desktop”). But I’m not quite following the latest additions. For example the new pop-up design is frankly annoying: pop-up you can’t make disappear when they annoy you, they are displayed too quickly to be able to read some messages and when they have disappeared, there is now way to read the message once again. Not very user friendly to say the least.

  70. Barras de desplazamiento autoocultables para unity | lincudo Says:

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  71. Marco Says:

    This is awesome shit.
    Do you guys have statistics on scrollbar usage vs. mousewheel and scrollarea on mousepad?

  72. Arnaud Vallat Says:


    the idea of moving everything of a maximized application to the topbar is really great, since I’m always working with everything maxmized, it will fullfill my needs. But I have a question, how does it work in multi-screen? Do we need a topbar on each screen? Or the application on the other will have only its content and the representation of the titlebar and buttons will be on the primary screen (where the topbar lies)?

    Looking forward to reading you,


  73. Matthias Says:

    If you really want to slim down the UI/chrome then you should consider using code from themes like this here: http://code.google.com/p/unified-gnome-theme! (this is from me, but there are other “slimmed down” themes out there in the web ;-))

    What does it do:
    * Decrease the paddings around widgets
    * Decrease the height and width of widgets (especially buttons and comboboxes)

    Btw, really good work up till now, keep going 😉

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  75. Stuart Says:

    This is a nice idea. Will this feature work with other GTK themes like Clearlooks?

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  77. fdsfdfd Says:

    Overdesigned and awkward.

    Also why on earth do you not have live window resizing?

  78. srinivas v Says:


    Congratulations on getting it right. This is simple “radical” design. Thnax to “U”r developers

  79. mark Says:


    That’s slick work, nice and compact, we can definitely take inspiration from it! You might want to chat with Cimi on freenode and see how to integrate some of your thinking into his work.

  80. Nick Mailer Says:

    Heh. I love how Ubuntu focusses on notifications, window gadgets and scroll-bars, when “little” things like desktop search (remember Beagle and Tracker, now both dead) which were once on Mark’s radar have just flitted away. Not to mention the UI horror that is nautilus, whose repairs were suggested a couple of years ago but have been ignored.

    Yes, the devil is in the details, but you don’t get the privilege of fighting these devils until you’ve trounced the megadevils in the substance.

  81. Tobias Says:

    Nick, agreed. Ubuntu needs to look into finally getting a robust indexer.

    Regarding nautilus, it’s a shame that many nice improvements to the apps themselves (nautilus, gedit, evince) went into Gnome3 and hence remain inaccessible to us for now.

  82. Dimitris Says:

    That is a nice idea though I HATE the outside-of-window concept. Please give us a configuration option for an inside mode or plain classic scrollbars.

  83. Dimitris Says:

    Continuing my previous post, I would like to have the following options for the scroll handle.

    Relative to the scrollbar:
    *) Aligned on the on top (ala Google Wave)
    *) Aligned on the inner side
    *) Aligned on the outer side

  84. Philipp Says:

    So you can’t click scrollbars anymore for page up/down? You always have to look for the scrollbar thumb?

  85. oliver Says:

    Nice; getting more screen space this way would be great.

    Regarding the one-line scrolling: I use that very seldom, but in some rare cases it’s really necessary, so that the viewport shows exactly a very specific part of the document (for comparisons etc.). Maybe for those cases, pressing Shift or Ctrl while using the scrollthumb could switch to one-line scrolling. Maybe have a look at Gimp/Photoshop/… – IIRC those have modifier keys which switch to a “more exact” positioning mode.

  86. Nick Mailer Says:

    Tobias: Indeed. My mother uses Ubuntu. She doesn’t give a damn what happens to her scroll bars. What she does care about is that in one version of ubuntu, her search icon produced results, and in the latest version to which she’s upgraded, that search icon has disappeared, and is basically uninstallable. Or that Thunderbird is not integrated into the notification system without a hacky plugin. Thunderbird, for goodness sake – we’re not talking about Balsa.

    These things matter. They matter much more than how many pixels you can shave off your scrollbars.

    But I suppose there is comfort in Mark’s working on these little details. It feels satisfying to be able to control one’s problem domain, and feel like one’s being a little Jonathan Ive, I guess. But outside this comfortable world of pixel shaving, there are huge chunks of infrastructure that are broken or fundamentally suboptimal. And left to fester. This is sad.

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  88. kikl Says:

    Fabulous, I think it is great that canonical is focusing on polishing the rough edges. Natty is going to be a big move and I hope you get most things right. I’ll be testing the beta release.

    Good Luck!

  89. the_madman Says:

    Very clever. However, I can’t help but wonder if the current scroll position bar and the scroll-handle should be separate: I might have gone for the scroll position bar expanding out into a handle. Seems more intuitive to me, as they are both related to the same thing: scrolling. I’m also wondering how it might look on Unity2D.

    Otherwise, looks very good: rivals the aesthetic of even commercial operating systems easily! 😀

  90. Alf Says:

    Nice idea, but I think the handler needs a little more thinking (Maybe should not be on the outside of the window).
    PS: Maybe the design guys should edit the video and umount the “Windows 7” drive before record it, it’s funny to see it in an official Canonical video (remember the bug #1 right?) 😀

  91. M. Says:

    @mark: Yes, it was quite unwarranted and I apologize for that.

  92. Callum Says:

    Awesome Mark, I’m continually inspired by your focus on the details that really matter. It’s great to see the free software desktop experience coming on leaps and bounds. Through sheer laziness I skipped Maverick and am now saving myself for Natty, I look forward to the new desktop experience. :-)

    PS> There have been several WordPress security releases on the 3.0 branch which might affect 2.9 (I’m not sure off the top of my head) and your blog claims to be version 2.9.1. I recommend updating to the latest 3.1. Feel free to drop me a line if you need any assistance with the upgrade.

  93. Ralph Corderoy Says:

    Whilst dabbling with Gtk+’s scrollbars you may wish to consider a boon to their use that Acorn’s RISC OS had last century; dragging the vertical SB with the normal button worked as expected, dragging with another button dragged both it and the paired horizontal SB, effectively turning either into a “panner” widget. How often do you drag the vertical one only to have to then move to the horizontal, adjust that, it’s still not quite right so back to the vertical… If both adjust at once it saves time and seems much less annoying.

  94. Barras de desplazamiento flotantes en Ubuntu | Clic que te clic Says:

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  95. Alfonso Says:

    Great idea! But wouldn’t it be better if you could move the orange line instead of showing the scrollbar?

  96. Manjeet Dahiya Says:

    Nice thought and pretty neat implementation!

    On somewhat same lines, I have thinking that most of our displays are of wide form factor. We should think of moving the toolbars and stuff of various application vertically.

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  98. mark Says:

    @Ralph, that’s a very interesting idea, will look into it, thanks!

  99. Andrew Says:

    Given an OS whose UI highlights include a still half broken copy and paste implementation your brilliant idea is to waste time fixing something that isn’t broken. Come on! There are real problems you can be solving.

    Why are you guys even laboring under the assumption that the window chrome is too big? I have three 1080p screens! If anything make the dang window edges bigger so they are easier to target!

  100. Patrick M. Jordan Says:

    I’d certainly be happy with a scrollbar that auto-hid on the right border inside of the window, appearing when you move your mouse into the rightmost area, and then vanishing when the mouse moves out of that area.

    Perhaps it might be even partially transparent, if it’s really essential to see what’s under it as the content is scrolled.

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  102. billay Says:

    You could strip it down further if you removed most of the window decoration at top, leaving only the size controls and the name. Then when you moused over an edge, a trapezoidal outgrowth of the window could appear for dragging (top and left) and for scrolling (bottom and right).

  103. John Stowers Says:

    @Nick Mailer,

    Tracker is alive, healthy, and actively supported by commercial developers, check the release history for the now stable 0.10 series. Ubuntu just does not ship that version.

    The Nautilus UI redesign was completed a week or so ago, however Ubuntu ships only the old 2.32 branch.

    Please familiarize yourself with the state of upstream software before making proclamations.

  104. Christopher K. Says:

    Great idea. To improve this I’d say the overlay should immediately disappear when you right-click it. This would allow faster interaction. And at least I am already used to this behaviour of overlays that disappear when right-clicked (from Windows-programs like Trillian I’m afraid, but never the less 😉 ).

  105. brianlmerritt Says:

    I love this – fantastic way to increase content and decrease dead space.

    Apologies if you are already onto this, but what about a “stick shift/overdrive” model, where you have the normal slider but allowing multi-directional scrolling (left – right as well as up – down), and overdrive (Control/Command equivalent) where the user is scrolling / selecting menu options within the application?

    So the user scrolls say up/down as usual, but by pulling “more than a small amount” one direction or the other puts it into 2 dimensional scrolling.

    Once the user scrolls over an area with a drop down or other menu selector item then holding Control / Command selects menu mode, using the equivalent of tab and back tab to select the menu option Once selected with a click, the user is then scrolling that menu drop down / selector. Releasing Control/Command goes back to scroll so you can select the next menu option.

    With touch, you get 2 dimensional scrolling, so all you need is a gesture or screen icon to switch to menu select mode.

  106. Shawn J. Goff Says:

    I love this, it’s great UX work from Canonical. I really hope it tests well.

    I’m curious: does this interfere when you try to resize the window from the right side or the bottom-right corner?

  107. Thomas Hansen Says:

    Context is everything! Beautiful design work!

    It’s exciting to see how you are coming up with new interface ideas that are unifying the graphical interface for different input devices. I think this also shows how the transition to next gen interfaces can be gradual and build on existing interfaces.

    Do you see these kind of contextual widgets being used more widely (e.g. billay suggested hiding/showing the menu). There is a fine/dangerous line between interpreting/contextualizing the users intent/input and still having the interface provide discoverability of functionality. I think that line is walked perfectly in this example though!

  108. Noobie Linux & BSD Tips | The Linux Action Show! | Jupiter Broadcasting Says:

    […] Patches (rebuttal from CentOS) Red Hat Defends their Move GNOME To Lose Minimize, Maximize Buttons Shuttleworth on Overlay Scrollbars in Ubuntu Reminder: openSUSE 11.4 (with KDE 4.6) is out this […]

  109. mark Says:


    Good question, that’s one of the key things we’re testing. We use both “magic borders” (invisible grab areas outside the window edge for resizing) and these “magic scrollbars”, and the interaction between them could be messy.

  110. mark Says:


    Yes, two-dimensional scrolling was suggested earlier in these comments and warrants investigation. Great idea!

  111. Some links for light reading (7/3/11) | Max Design Says:

    […] Ayatana overlay scrollbars: something truly Natty […]

  112. candies vs delicatesses Says:

    Nice, but that feels pretty much candy-thing. So not giving so much new benefit after all. There still needs to be that visible mark of how tall the used window area is. So this is pretty much just hiding the scrolling handle.

    I think that much more benefit, especially to the multituch user experience, could be achieved by deleloping the top side of the windows, putting some things to hide and pop out in there, like menus and tabs. Have you tried of putting in a same tab-row, side by side, both icon-functionbar and main-menu-items? Icon-functionbar-tab(s) could be dark background and light text/symbol, while main-menu-items could be light background and dark text.

    And I think that more important thing to develop more is the general drag&drop of data between different applications, like graphics and text between Scribus and OOo and different graphic apps. There’s still lot to do with it to make it go like in OS X apps for example.

  113. Rick Maines Says:

    Great concept. I love Ubuntu, and evangelize it near-daily. I wonder though, if having the visible scroll (the orange line) just widen on selection, for scrolling, then thin again after, would make more sense than having a widget overlay? Just a thought, and probably not a good one, but it made perfect sense when it hit my brain. Thanks for all the work on these things.

  114. Ayatana Overlay Scrollbars Says:

    […] Shuttleworth has blogged about the new overlay scrollbars that are being designed for the next version of […]

  115. Calum Says:

    This is basically the same as the scrollbars that Sun’s OpenLook had 20 years ago, except that they showed the button with the two arrows all the time, not just on mouseover. (And OpenLook had a nice little button at the top and bottom of the shaft for scrolling right to the top or bottom of the document, too.)

  116. mark Says:


    The look of the thumb may be similar, but not having a shaft is the point 😉

  117. mark Says:

    @Rick, having a widened thumb is a good idea, we spent quite a bit of time with that concept but in the end struggled to make it work in the case where one clicks to page up and down. In that case, you want the thumb and the scrollbar to disconnect from one another – the scrollbar needs to move to show proportional position, but the thumb needs to stay so you can click multiple times sequentially without having to follow it. Since they need to disconnect, it felt more natural to make them out of different materials. But we face a challenge in the Dash, where we may have to use your suggestion.

  118. iloveubuntu Says:

    @mark Why don’t you make the scrollbutton discoverable only from inside the window (to be proximity sensible only from inside TO OUTSIDE) and the magic borders left as it are (only from the outside)? As for the Dash, this approach is perfect.
    The scrollbars are very thin, and , even the window is unmaximized, the user could easily put the cursor in-and-out easily (the hovered area would be quite small).

  119. iloveubuntu Says:

    @mark Why don’t you make the scrollbutton discoverable only from inside the window (to be proximity sensible only from inside TO OUTSIDE) and the magic borders left as it are (only from the outside)? As for the Dash, this approach is perfect.
    The scrollbars are very thin, and , even the window is unmaximized, the user could easily put the cursor in-and-out easily (the hovered area would be quite small and I don’t see anyone complaining about it).

  120. mark Says:


    Yes, that sounds sensible, and we’ll explore it. Thanks for the suggestion.

  121. budi Says:

    Whoa, this is original stuff.
    More spaces and less stuff on screen. I think it only works well with one panel only.

    I like the idea. Marvelous, Mark!

  122. FOSSilized Says:

    I was thinking, great minds think alike ;-). I actually proposed something similar for Gnome Shell. But I’m just a poor user, so I couldn’t argue my point well. See the following list thread, “Get rid of the scrollbars”.


  123. Jon Says:

    Great work, Mark! I do see the problem of window-sizing & the scroll-button, but y’all are workin’ on it. Keep up the great work.

  124. becky Says:

    If they can do it with the scrollbars….. why can’t they do it with the controls for up and down a line? Everyone gets what they want. We all get more real estate on the screen and the power users get a set of auto-hiding up/down buttons!

  125. Ayatana-Canonical: ecco il restyling delle scrollbars per Unity - Chimera Revo Says:

    […] avrete la nuova barra pronta per l’uso! Per quello che ho letto nei commenti al post di Mark Shuttleworth, pare questa sia una feature che sicuramente sarà presente in Natty ma non si sa ancora se lo […]

  126. Zac Says:

    This is good stuff alright. Keep forging ahead Mark, you are doing great.

    Please also make the Software Centre a place so developers can easily make and have software available.
    If free software projects want it, have a donation button built into the Software Centre, with Canonical handling the payment, and taking a percentage. It’ll help fund Ubuntu and also give funds to the software project.

  127. Edwin Says:

    How about this: instead of making a separate scroll bar appear as you reach close proximity of the ‘thin line’, perhaps it can be expanded just at that segment (think of a bulging pipe) and on that bulge itself, you will see an up arrow and a down arrow just like what is shown above. This gives better congruency in the design (no funny grey part appearing beside an orange scroll bar) as well as this allows you to keep one-row functionality AND one-page functionality simply by dividing this bulge into 4 asymmetrical segments, where 2 larger segments are for scrolling pages and the smaller ones are meant for scrolling by row.

    Tweaks can be made but I definitely think that the current implementation, though for the better, looks exceptionally clunky (and annoying!) when it appears when you don’t really want it to.

  128. none Says:

    Great concept. What if we extend it to other elements of the UI? Think of status bars similar to those of Google’s Chromium, or menu bars (or even tool bars!) that are mostly hidden except when you reach for them…

    But what I would die for is some conky-like overlay that can show status information on top of my windows without actually obscuring them.

  129. Petr Topiarz Says:

    Well, it may be that this world needs all the time something new. However that does not mean that changing everything is making it better. I don’t believe this is a good change, one cannot move up and down on a laptop if the scrolling function does not work. Also, the thin line is harder to catch with a mouse. So do you believe you are improving the system or do you also realize you are crippling the functionality?

  130. snobel Says:

    This is one of your best design ideas so far: Functionality is not removed, just put out of the way. Discrete but still discoverable.

    Here is an idea for the thumb arrows:

    – Single click for page up/down, double click for top/bottom
    (equivalent to ctrl+home/ctrl+end)

    …and as a configurable alternative:

    – Single click for one line up/down, double click for page up/down

    That way everybody wins!

  131. Nie zanosi się na to, żeby Ubuntu nas czymś zaskoczyło / aqum.eu Says:

    […] przenosi menu aktywnej aplikacji z systemu Apple’a. A wisienką na torcie pozostaje niedawna prezentacja nowych pasków przewijania, dziwnie podobnych do tych z iOS, które razem z Lionem staną się […]

  132. AndyB Says:

    @Mark I love the concept, but I think there’s an other low hanging fruit to harvest: intellihide/overlay the top of the window. The 3 buttons and the title are greedily taking too much pixels as well. Just an idea…

  133. CHRSB Says:

    Why on earth would you HIDE something the USER NEEDS TO USE? Really? Hide the scroll grip? Is that what you all are wasting your time on? Mystery Meat Navigation?

    This is bad design 101.

  134. Goo Says:

    I have to say, this is an interesting design implementation. I have to admit, I’m not a fan of Unity, but I will be checking out the new release in April just to see what you have been able to do with it in such a short time. As much as I am not enamoured with Unity, I am REALLY not happy with Gnome 3. Good work, as always, gents and lasses.

  135. yman Says:

    Please consider instead making the position indicator (or whatever name you chose for those orange mini scrollbars) expand into a full-fledged scrollbar on mouse-over instead of using an overlay. Otherwise please make sure the overlay is always inside the window. Having them outside is ugly.

    Please don’t take away the ability to scroll one line, whether it’s with the buttons on the ends of the scrollbar or with the arrow keys. I use this a lot, especially the arrow keys.

  136. yman Says:

    Or another option: make the position indicator the scrollbar.

  137. unwesen Says:

    I kind of like scrollbars to be less intrusive, so generally like the design.

    I would agree somewhat with yman on the aesthetics: the position indicator should IMO expand into a thumb/overlay at it’s full height, and probably also be orange. The current overlay design looks… odd next to the position indicator, and the fact that it moves relative to the position indicator makes it look slightly broken.

    I would also agree that it’d be more aesthetically pleasing to have the overlay inside the view, despite the fact that it obscures the content somewhat. I would move it outside only if a) there is space outside (the window could be full-screen) and b) the content area is very narrow.

    Anyhow, those are relatively unimportant things to me. What’s more important is that this design does not allow something I’ve found very useful in many applications: it’s now not easily possible to mark in the scrollbar the positions where something you searched for is to be found. To see what I mean, look at a web page in Chrome and search for some word within the page.

    You could have more floating indicators, but somehow that seems more messy than the original scrollbars.

  138. Omer Akram Says:

    I just remembered the overlay status bar concept that you revealed a while ago, is that still planned for future or was the idea dissolved?

  139. S04E02 – Stranger in a Strange Land | Ubuntu Podcast from the UK LoCo team Says:

    […] …and blogs about reinventing scrollbars […]

  140. Quick review of Ubuntu Unity | Three Wise Men Says:

    […] […]

  141. Federico Says:

    Why not a scrollbar that gets fatter when the pointer is near? This one isn’t that beautiful :)

  142. Barras de desplazamiento superpuestas en Unity Says:

    […] un vídeo de una nueva característica para Unity, comentada por el propio Mark Shuttleworth en su blog, que hace que las barras de desplazamiento se “auto-oculten” cuando no son utilizadas, […]

  143. Numpty Says:

    All seems mostly pointless, to me. On modern displays, horizontal space is cheap; it’s vertical space that’s at a premium.

  144. Nick Mailer Says:

    @John Stowers

    I am well aware about upstream developments. My point was about Ubuntu. The fact that shaving a few pixels off the scrollbars was considered a higher priority than getting a previously-headlined-but-now-abandoned bit of infrastructure re-integrated speaks volumes.

    My frustration is only because I see what matters to real people like my mother, and then I see what the designers and devs become obsessed with, and the gulf between the two is profound.

  145. Um teste do Ubuntu 11.04 « Tecnologia e etc. Says:

    […] presentes mais duas novidades do sistema: a possibilidade de testar aplicativos sem instalar e a barra de rolagem “invísivel”. Então vamos esperar até dia 28 de Abril, o lançamento do Ubuntu 11.04 […]

  146. Xavier Claessens Says:

    * I can’t middle click to jump to a position
    * I can’t click on the bar to make a big jump
    * I need a long time to find where the bar is hiding
    * Only empathy and gedit have that new scrollbar, all other apps still have the normal bar
    * It is extremely buggy

    “if your project depends on reinventing scrollbars, you are doing something wrong.”

  147. Liberada la beta 2 de Ubuntu 11.04 | Doculinux Says:

    […] Overlay Scrollbars (barras de desplazamiento “superpuestas”). Un concepto muy novedoso a la par que interesante, que busca maximizar el espacio disponible en el escritorio. Las barras de desplazamiento “tradicionales” desaparecen casi por completo y en su lugar vemos una fina línea naranja que nos indica que, si pasamos el puntero sobre ella, aparecerá un scrubber con el que podremos desplazarnos vertical y horizontalmente. Se ha confirmado que vendrán por defecto en Ubuntu 11.04 y de momento sólo funcionan en aplicaciones GTK “puras”. […]

  148. Unity是个好Shell | Shellex's Blog Says:

    […] 1. Mark Shuttleworth称赞的Scrollbar […]

  149. cgarre Says:

    Well done ! Trust me these simple design concepts go a long way in improving the looks, i really like the look overlay scrollbar gives, it basically gives mode space to the application, and appears when you need ! i like it !

  150. Max Says:

    To get the ‘scroll one line up/down’ functionality (huge documents/web pages clearly need it) back into the design i would suggest 3 possibilites:

    1. have two additional smaller buttons in the middle of the thumb
    (like this <- -> ), where the inner scroll one line, while the outer a equivalent to clicking beside the thumb in a traditional scroll bar (paging).

    2. use a modifier key (like ctrl+click) for one line scrolling

    3. use thumb buttons in prototype design to scroll one line while clicking outside the thumb would do paging – not sure if technically feasible

    please consider making it configurable to have the traditional scroll bar displayed when hovering over the new symbolic scroll indicator (to win over the whiners)

    otherwise slick design!

  151. Myq Says:

    no, this is not good. i’m sorry, but you’ve missed the point. if i want to scroll, i now MUST mouse to the area of the indicator. old-skool scrollbars allowed me to click in the region where the indicator is no in order to scroll screen by screen. that option is gone now.

    yes, i know everything can be done with the keyboard anyway. that’s not the point. you have REDUCED not only the size, but also the options and the speed with which the scroll bar can be used. if you are going to make the scrollbar worse, then just take it out and force people to only use the keyboard.

    it’s crippled, not improved.

  152. Prateek jadhwani Says:

    Hey Mark…dat was one hell of an improvement dat u made in Unity..but i guess only a couple of apps are able to use overlay scrollbar in GNOME3, since i installed it over 11.04. Still i wud like to get sum help so dat i can hack gnome3 for enabling dis feature. Even firefox, Nautilus and Empathy arent able to use dis feature.

  153. Pekka Says:

    How this eye-candy is supposed to work with touch screen? These overlay scrollbars require pixel-perfect clicks and drags. I end up mostly doing drag and drop instead of scrolling.

    If you want to ape Andrdoid or IOS, please do it properly.

  154. Comment revenir aux scrollbars classiques sur Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal | LostInBrittany - Le blog d'Horacio Gonzalez Says:

    […] revient donc vers le bon vieux shell GNOME, à une exception près : les overlay scrollbars, les nouvelles barres de défilement style smartphones introduites avec Unity pour gagner de la […]

  155. Damon Says:

    Totally hate unity and the badness transfers to Xfce4. I use a laptop, not a damn tablet. Give me back my scroll bars. Did I say I hate Unity, I am totally livid.

  156. physopty Says:

    I use a trackpoint on a notebook which is faster and more precise than a touchpad. Even a touchscreen – while nice for certain surfing and navigation tasks – will never replace a well-engineered trackpoint. I even prefer to deactivate touchpads since they interfere with natural hand rest position.

    Regarding the overlay scrollbars, it is most annoying that the overlay appears only when getting close to the indicating vertical bar. So it requires to navigate the pointer to that tiny vertical bar, rather than simply move to the right border of the text area. This is difficult and slows down work a lot.

    Devices with touchscreen are fashionable now, and touchscreens might become standard also for notebooks used to work rather than just play and surf around.

    So I am pretty much against this new fashion of overlay scrollbars. It should at least be easy to switch them off, but better be discarded as it is one more step on the way to unfunctional notebooks (just as the move from 4:3 to widescreen was – also driven by movie consumers but not professional users).

    However, it may be good with a touchsreen and well-engineered trackpoint combination but without a touchpad. Or allow the touchpad to operate as large 2D scroll-control (and nothing else).

  157. Nattys Scrollbar - Hartholz Says:

    […] April versucht, mit mit dem “Overlay Scrollbar” anzufreunden, den Mark Shuttleworth unheimlich toll findet. Er hat ja insofern Recht, dass die Scrollbars auf so einem Bildschirm eine Menge Platz fressen. […]

  158. jim Says:

    I will say this with huge amount of respect for your dedication and creativity, however I have a huge problem with Ayatan scrollbar. I currently use Ubuntu with Gnome 2.32.

    At the minimum, you should give users a choice to select the look-and-feel such as you get with Firefox 6.0, where if there is more text than the window size, the scrollbar is shown ***all the time, and has good ***contrast color so it is highly ***visible.

    I am not a game player, I am a programmer. There are three most common things I do on my computer. One is searching for files. Two is programming within some IDE. Three is trying to find bloody scrollbars. In fact, I estimate I am looking for scrollbars about 200 times per day. Yes I can understand that real estate is limited on the screen. I measured several of my windows and found out that typical width of a window is 150mm, and the height is 100mm. The vertical scrollbar if it were always visible take 3mm width and 100mm height. Horizontal scrollbar would take 3mm width and 150mm length. So the two scrollbars have area (3*100 + 3*150) and the window area is (150*100) so the ratio is 750/15,000 = 5%. So by making the scrollbars invisible you saved 5%.

    To put it differently, I have to hunt with my mouse over the edge of the window repeatedly until I can see the invisible scrollbar. To put it yet differently, it is very bad idea to try to save 5% and making the window unusable because I can’t find the bloody scrollbar.

    Again I have great deal of respect for all the Gnome programmers, but please give user an option to see the scrollbar all the time if there is hidden text in the window and make the scrollbar highly visible by providing proper contrast. It should require very little code since persistently visible scrollbars are easier to design. Use the look-and-feel of Firefox 6.0. I am so desperate that I am looking into installing xfce or KDE.

  159. Overlay Scrollbars: Neues Scrollbar-Konzept in Ubuntu Natty 11.04 | Linux und Ich Says:

    […] aktuell schon Ubuntu Natty am Laufen hat, der kann sich das Ganze auch selber ansehen. Auf Marks Blog gibt es Informationen zum […]

  160. David Says:

    overlay scrollbars are terrible. I have a desktop, not a silly tablet!

  161. Selectively Disable Overlay Scrollbars | Tombuntu Says:

    […] 11.04 introduced overlay scrollbars with a minimal look and scrolling controls that only appear when the mouse is nearby. Some […]

  162. mackellsantos Says:

    […] Mas nesse próximo lançamento o Ubuntu realmente se define como um sistema operacional e não mais como “outra distro Linux”. O Unity é interessante, as novidades do sistema são bem vindas e o sistema deve atrair ainda mais usuários com elas. Nesse beta ainda não estavam presentes mais duas novidades do sistema: a possibilidade de testar aplicativos sem instalar e a barra de rolagem “invísivel”. […]